“Important but not urgent” could come back to bite you

by | Jul 19, 2023

Almost everyone I talk to agrees that culture and engagement are important. However, more than half of the organizations don’t have any kind of intentional program in place to address these areas. “Why not?” I ask.

“Well, because other things are more urgent,” they usually reply.

While that’s understandable, it’s not always practical in the long-term.

(And I also believe that as an always-on culture, we’re accustomed to the 24-hour news cycle and urgent messages from the newest courtroom drama to the dangers of using the wrong shampoo.)

We can’t keep trading up today’s urgent crisis that needs attention for the next one. Because then we are always in reaction mode, and we’re never getting to those important things that aren’t on fire or screaming for our attention.

What happens to your organization if you never focus on culture or your people? What happens when the next crisis IS a toxic or dysfunctional culture or lack of employee engagement?

  • People leave, sometimes in droves. A colleague told me a story of a company whose culture survey indicated an across-the-board problem with a department manager. The president refused to address the issue, and six months later, the entire department left.
  • Dysfunction and malaise. If people aren’t happy, and worse, actively miserable, if they don’t leave, then what do you have left? People who don’t want to be there. Do you think they’re going to perform well? No. Productivity will drop immensely, which affects everything from missed deadlines to unhappy customers.
  • Strategic objectives and direction go out the window. If culture and/or employee satisfaction becomes an issue, then the focus shifts from the shiny objectives and goals to prevailing in petty conflicts. Time gets wasted by dysfunctional communication and striving to one-up one another instead of working together toward a common goal.

So, how do you move culture and employees to the front burner BEFORE it becomes the next crisis? You need to be proactive. Here are some things you can implement now.

  • Ask your employees what they need. With the Great Resignation (or Great Reshuffle), employees are standing up for what they want. In current research, positive culture, meaningful work, and work/life balance regularly make it into the top 5. But you have to go beyond just asking what they want… be prepared to do something with the information you receive. We have found that when organizations conduct employee engagement surveys and do NOTHING with the results, things actually get worse.
  • Give feedback. Your employees need to know what they’re doing well and what could be improved. We find many managers struggle with giving relevant feedback because it can be uncomfortable or they don’t want to “hurt someone’s feelings.” The truth is that humans crave feedback, and the new generations in the workforce (Millennials and Gen Zers) actually require it.
  • Have regular conversations. If it’s not obvious by now, the old-school annual performance review has gone (or should have) the way of the dinosaurs. You should be having conversations with your people on a regular basis that touch on how they’re doing overall, their successes and struggles, their professional development goals. According to Gallup, the “credibility of senior management is driven largely by the quality of relationships employees have with their supervisors.”
  • Focus on values, vision, and goals of the organization – and not just as words on the wall or occasional message from the CEO – but integrated into everyday, regular work. When employees understand how they fit into the big mechanism that is your organization, they are more likely to be positively engaged and maybe even passionate about their work and results. An IBM study found that 80% of employees felt more engaged when their work was consistent with the core values and mission of their organization.

In case you’re still not positive you should be focusing on culture and your people NOW, not later, research commissioned by the Achievers Workforce Institute found that “52% are looking for a new job, up from 35% a year earlier. The study also found that 46% of respondents feel less connected to their company, and 42% say company culture has diminished since the start of the pandemic.”

If you’re not sure where to start, let’s have a conversation. You don’t have to do this alone.


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